Ideas, Advice, Pinetree Legal & V.L.P.

Why Shouldn't I Just Represent ( "pro se" ) Myself In Court?

"As I mentioned, the intention of this blog is not to advise you on how to represent yourself, but to give you some information as to how the Legal System works and give you some ideas as to what to ask your Attorney, and how to help him prepare your case. There are several reasons why you should ALWAYS retain an Attorney and not fight the good fight alone. Please don't think for a minute I didn't use them myself when ever I needed to."

Because I enjoyed the legal aspects of the Law, my Attorney and the Attorney's of my family and friends, have always been quiet happy letting me do most of the "leg work" while they waited to present their cases. I spent 21 years arresting people and writing arrest reports. In my early days as a Loss Prevention Manager, I used one way mirrors to observe shoplifters. Mirrors or walking the floor. That is all we had. We had no cameras, no recorded tapes. The report you wrote up, became a large part of your evidence. Detailing the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the incident. That is what won my cases in court back then. You might not get a court date on your case for months. Taking the time to write down the times, dates and events right after they happened, while they were still fresh in my mind, helped to re-jog my memory when I was called as a witness. Your attention to detail in your reports, really counted with the Court. Most Judge's found it hard to dispute the facts, when they had been written down in a chronological order, right after they had happened.

I got pretty good at it!

I helped my family and friends in this way the most. I would interview all involved, get dates, times, details, any paperwork that was evidence. I would read the statements of their witnesses, take out any irrelevant information, ( nothing to do with the case, doesn't need to be said or known about.) read what was written and then take some notes and ask my own questions. After gathering what information I believed was relevant, I put it all in chronological order and typed it all out. Then I gave it to them to hand to their Attorney to use. When the witnesses can remember details, dates and times, they are always more believable.

"As you know, if you not an Attorney, you cannot represent anyone but yourself in a Court Of Law. I could only help my family or friends get prepared to help their Attorneys present their case to the court."

I would suggest to all, that if you really want to help your Attorney win your case. you should write down EVERYTHING about your situation. Dates, times, everything I mentioned above. If you have "witnesses", get them to do the same thing. I am sure you don't need to be told how important this really is. But let me tell you one of the benefits. When your Attorney and the District Attorney share "Discovery". Your Attorney will be able to show the opposing side a list of the people who witnessed your situation and what they would be willing to testify to. The witness statements become part of your "bargaining chip". You may not even need to call them for your case... if you plea your case out.
Remember though, if your intention is to prove you are Not Guilty of the charge. You will need their testimony. see: "Witness, Yours, Mine and Ours."

"Keep in mind, your Attorney may not have the time to really put into your case. If they are a court appointed Attorney, then they were appointed to represent you... for Free! Taking the time to interview your witnesses, and writing those statements I mentioned, will not only show them how serious you are in winning your case, but how helpful you intend to be. Do the "work" for your Attorney and help them win, lose, or plea your case."

The List Goes On And On As To The Reasons Why Retaining An Attorney Is Always A Good Idea.

They have better access to the District Attorney.
They understand the legal paperwork involved and what it says and means.
You may have a more complex case than you realize.
You may want to appeal the decision, if you lose your case.
You may not understand what evidence the District Attorney has, that can be objected to.

Another Important Reason To ALWAYS Have An Attorney.

"I once filed for a Motion to Continue on a case for a friend. Her case was scheduled to be heard at 1 P.M. that same afternoon. She wasn't giving enough time to secure an Attorney and I was going to file a Motion To Continue her case and request more time, so she could "seek and obtain" legal council."

At 9 A.M. I walked up to the clerk of court's window, and told the clerk I wanted to file a Motion to Continue. She looked at me and replied "OK, where is the paperwork?"

"I though I could get the paperwork here and just fill it out."

"No," she replied, "Your Attorney has to make it out. There is no paperwork for that, and the State's Attorney has to have no objection to your request."

Wow, I didn't know that....Now what do I do?

Well, first I went down to the District Attorney's office and asked if they would object to my motion to continue the case on a different day and expressed to them my reason for wanting to do so.

They told me that would not object to my Motion.

Then, I went home to do some learning. I dug through all of my saved paperwork, and found a Motion To Continue that had been filed by my Attorney during my divorce.

I typed it up just as I saw it, but... I changed the words to reflect my own case. I passed it into the same clerk 2 hours later.

The judge approved my request a short time later.

I had filed legal paperwork received from the clerk before, but this was my first "made up" piece of legal paperwork that I had filed and it was accepted. I was pretty proud of that.

So, anyone can file paperwork through the Clerk of Court. You don't need an Attorney to do that. The important question to consider should be, can you make up any paperwork you may need to file for your type of case?

Good idea to have that Attorney with you.

I Do Not Have The Money To Pay For An Attorney. Am I Just Out of Luck?

If your charge involves any jail time at all, you can apply for a State Appointed Attorney. Most State Appointed Attorney's only ask that you pay for any copy costs, or any "process server's" costs. ( to serve potential witnesses, ) involved with your case.

If your case does not include jail time, you may not be entitled to a State Appointed Attorney. But you can ask the Judge anyway. If your case is based on just a fine, ( traffic cases ) you'll probably find.... your on your own.

If your case involves problems with Rental Issues, Eviction Problems, Welfare Benefits, Domestic Violence, or other serious civil legal problems. Pinetree Legal Assistance may be able to help.

Pinetree Legal Assistance, Ptld ( 1-207-774-8211 - Phone Intake Hours: Mon. - Thurs. 8:30 A.M. - 12:30 P.M. ) helps low income people in Mane, with the legal issues listed above.

I would suggest the day you get summonsed or served, to contact them right away. Start calling on that day. Now I know, they are difficult to get a hold of. Here is where my advice to "write everything down" may come in handy. If you just cannot get through, copy all the paperwork you have on the case. Write up a brief description on your case, and also include information on your financial position as well. Don't forget to include a phone number that you can be reached at. Put it all in a large yellow envelope and write "Pinetree Legal Assistance" on the envelope. Then jump in your car and head for their closest office. Go to the receptionist and tell them you were asked to "drop this envelope off and no, your not sure who it goes to." You could also use the mail, depending on the time frame of your case.

I have done this and it has worked. - "I'm sure they are going to love the fact that I mentioned this."

"My thought is: It is easier to review the case material, make a decision on your qualifications for help, and get back to you when they have the time to do so. The date and time remaining on your court date, will remind them how important it is to get back to you."

I would also suggest to keep trying to get through to them on the phone. If you get through, you can identify yourself as the person who sent in the Yellow envelope and ask if anyone has had a chance to look at the information.

Another source of legal help is the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project Ptld. ( 1-207-774-4348 - Ptld callers only / All Others: 1-800-442-4293 ) Phone Intake Hours: Mon. & Tues. 9 A.M. - 12 P.M. & 1 P.M. - 4 P.M. - Wed. & Fri. 9 A.M. -12 P.M. - Thurs. 1 P.M. -4 P.M. )

The V.L.P. helps low income people with cases involving Family Law Matters, including Divorce, Custody, and Child Support see: "Parental Rights and Responsibility" Consumer Law matters, including Personal Bankruptcy and Foreclosure. Benefit Matters including, Unemployment issues, and Social Security problems. The V.L.P. also helps in Personal Injury, Real Estate, and Tax Laws issues. If you qualify, V.L.P. may be able to help with your custody issues, or help in lowering your child support payments.

Here is where I have discovered the race truly begins - "If you are having issues with your spouse, better half, live in,.... if you have children you need to keep in mind, that you both may qualify for this free legal help. BUT only one, usually the person who gets there first, gets the help! They cannot represent you both due to "conflict of interest.". It has been my experience that the woman usually gets there first. ( yes, I've been beaten in that race before. ) I believe it has everything to do with the fact that the guy usually thinks it will "blow over" and heads for work. If you want the help, if you put some real thought in your situation, if your ego can handle it, CALL FIRST!! If you don't make it first, the options below can be used."

V.L.P. also has a program called the Courthouse Assistance Project. This program uses Volunteer Attorneys, who provide help with family law matters at the District Courts in Portland, Biddeford and Lewiston. They have designated times and days when they are available for a brief conference about your case... For Free. They are not there to represent you, but to help you with questions. You do not have to have court, the day you want to stop in and talk to them. You just need to show up at the times and dates they list ( Here ) on their website. I will cover this subject in see: Parental Rights and Responsibility".

V.L.P. doesn't stop there! If you DO want to represent yourself. ( I know, I said ALWAYS get an Attorney, but there may be times you just can't. ) VLP has a phone helpline that allows callers to call and ask questions about family law issues like divorce, child custody, and child support. A volunteer lawyer or law student will give you advice over the telephone. Phone appointments are scheduled on either Wednesday evenings from 5:30-8:00 or Friday afternoons from 1:00-4:00. Remember, they do not represent you in your case. You will be representing yourself, but their Helpline attorney can assist you in understanding and planning for upcoming court appointments, filing out court forms and making decisions about your case. You may also have more than one phone conversation with the Helpline Attorney.

My Final Thought

"If I could give you one bit of advice in reference to your Attorney it would have to be: Always Tell Them The Truth!
There is nothing worse than being blind sided in a courtroom. When you have spent time prepared to defend your case, and you find during their witness testimony, your client "forgot to mention that."

Before I helped anyone, I made it clear that no matter how embarrassing it may be, no matter how much they didn't want anyone to know, I needed the truth in order to help fight their case. Your Attorney is under Client / Attorney Confidentially rules. He / She cannot hold the truth against you, and must put forth every effort to defend you.

No matter what the charge is. They have to remain unbiased towards your case.... no matter what they know about it.

Remember, You NEED to inform your Attorney of any discrepancies in any statement you might have made to the Police.

If your going to trust the truth with only one person.... Make it your Attorney!

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